Category Archives: Food sovereignty

In the era of Trump

More than a year has passed since I last wrote here. What a year, professionally and in terms of global politics.

Cardinia Food Circles, courtesy of Kirsty Moegerlein

Professional milestones

  • 21 January 2016: Sustain: The Australian Food Network becomes incorporated as a company limited by guarantee
  • March 2016: Sustain secures funding from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation for three years, effectively covering my role as Executive Director for 2 days a week
  • April 2016: Sustain secures funding from the Myer Foundation for capacity building, supporting a) the establishment of an Australian Food Systems Directory b) the holding of an inaugural Urban Agriculture Forum c) the holding of the 21st Symposium of Australian Gastronomy d) the recruitment of a part-time comms officer and e) governance training for our Board and myself
  • May 2016: We complete the Food Hub Feasibility Study for Wangaratta, the second such study after the 2015 Bendigo Food Hub Feasibility Study
  • June 2016: Study trip to Canada to attend the Canadian Food Hubs Conference and meet with food organisations in Quebec
  • June-July 2016: Preparation for the inaugural Australian Community Food Hubs conference and tour
  • August 8-18 2016: Community Food Hubs conference and tour successfully conducted with 170 attending the two-day Bendigo event and a further 800+ attending events around the country
  • September 2016: Planning begins for the national Urban Agriculture Forum and the Symposium of Australian Gastronomy
  • October 2016: Contract signed for a multi-year food system re-design project: Cardinia Food Circles.  The first and most ambitious project of its type attempted so far as we know.
  • November 2016: The Urban Agriculture Forum takes place in Melbourne with 150 attendees, followed by events in Bendigo, Adelaide and Sydney. Cardinia Food Circles project gets underway
  • December 2016: 21st Symposium of Australian Gastronomy takes place in Melbourne, with 140 attendees, over four days of debates and feasting. The background mapping of the Cardinia Food System takes place
  • January 2017: We pause a little for breath…Discussions begin for the Alphington Community Food Hub
  • February 2017: The Australian Food Systems Directory is launched. The Bendigo Local Food Economy pilot report is launched.
  • March 2017: The Sustain / VLGA food governance position paper is finalised, articulating  the role of local government across health and wellbeing, planning, and economic development
  • April 2017: The Cardinia Food Systems profiling workshops are held in Koo Wee Rup, Pakenham and Gembrook, generating debate and passion about the current state and future possibilities of Cardinia’s food system. The Food Hub Feasibility Study for the Wyndham Food Hub is finalised and delivered to the City of Wyndham
Koo Wee Rup food system profile, courtesy of Kirsty Moegerlein

And so much more still to come! Not mentioned above of course is the launch in 2016 of Australia’s first Bachelor of Food Studies at William Angliss Institute, and in 2017 of the first Master of Food Systems and Gastronomy at the same place.

Global politics

The geopolitical tremor came first in June with the Brexit vote, with a slim majority of UK voters taking the historic decision to leave the EU. This rising tide of nationalism crested in November 2016 with the previously unthinkable election of the ultra-narcissist Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, on an openly racist platform of America-first nationalism and xenophobia directed against Muslims, Mexicans, Chinese and non-Americans in general.

Trump’s first 100 days in office have been characterised by gaffes, mis-steps, broken promises and in recent weeks increasingly brazen saber-rattling and uber-militarism. In early April, a volley of cruise missiles was fired at Syria in supposed retaliation for a chemical weapons attack allegedly perpetrated by Bashar Al-Assad against civilians in a rebel-held zone. A week later the US military command in Afghanistan decided to drop the MOAB – Mother of All Bombs – the largest non-nuclear device ever exploded.

MOAB Bomb dropped on Afghanistan, 14 April 2017

At the same time Trump has effectively put the North Korean regime on notice that it’s next, and can expect a pre-emptive strike in the near future. North Korea has responded by threatening the US with annihilation. I can only imagine what it must be like for the residents of Seoul at this time, who will be first in the firing line should Trump carry through with his threats.

Meanwhile the rhetoric against Russia and Iran has ramped up considerably, and the US has them in its sights also. France is on the brink of electing the openly fascist National Front, as the forces of fear, xenophobia, racism and nationalism seem to be in the ascendancy.

The danger of war – and hugely destructive, nuclear war – feels very great indeed. I retain my optimism and belief that we are also on the cusp of some wonderful, transformative changes, but there are days when my optimism is sorely tested.

Still, this is the sort of thing that keeps me feeling hopeful:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE END OF AN ERA

Dear colleagues

I hope this finds you all well and looking forward to peaceful holiday time with friends and family.

I am writing to inform you that, after much reflection, I have decided to resign from the current AFSA Committee, owing to work, family and other commitments.

As you would all appreciate, having been a principal founder of AFSA and devoted a large portion of my life, at considerable personal sacrifice, to building it into a leading actor in the food movement in Australia over the past five and a half years, this is not a decision I have taken lightly. The AFSA journey has at times been tumultuous and difficult, yet it has also had many rewards and satisfactions. Not the least of which has been the pleasure of working with a large number of inspiring and motivated individuals – including of course your good selves – all around the country over many years, all of whom are wanting to play their part in supporting and amplifying the fair food movement here and globally. I always have done and will continue to draw inspiration from the passion and energy of these wonderful people.

The legacy of those five+ years is a significant one: the People’s Food Plan, Fair Food Week (over 260 events), the Fair Food documentary now screened more than 50 times, and the Fair Food book, whose sales are now approaching 2000. All of this, and much more in the past 12 months, has played a major role in raising awareness of the need for more and more people to become politically engaged in the long-term and vital work of building a fairer food system for all.

And sometimes the most encouraging news comes from unexpected sources that may not have had anything to with our efforts. A couple of weeks ago I discovered that from 2017 the Food Tech cookery subject will be replaced as an elective in Year 11 and 12 in all Victorian secondary schools, with a new Food Studies elective. I have reviewed the proposed curriculum, and it is a very good coverage of a food literacy and food systems subject. The expectation is that the numbers of high school students taking the subject will rise from the 3000 who currently take Food Tech, to more than 10,000 taking Food Studies in a few years’ time. They will be a powerful and growing constituency for a fair food system, which confirms my firm conviction that major change is both possible and underway.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all of you for the wonderful work you have done and continue to do in support of the food movement in this country. That so much has been achieved in this period is a reflection of the work of us all as a collective, both within AFSA and of course well beyond it. I am well aware of my own shortcomings and limitations as an individual and an activist, and thank all of you for your patience and understanding along the way. I also want to take this opportunity to apologise for any offences I have caused both overtly and through neglect. What I can say categorically is that  I have always tried to act according to what I believed and understood to be in the best interests of the food movement in this country, whilst realising that, being human, we all make mistakes.

I wish you all well in your respective professional and personal lives, and no doubt my path will continue to cross with many of yours in the months and years ahead.

All the best for a wonderful 2016.

Warmly

Nick

Dr Nick Rose
Co-founder and Vice-President, Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance
 AFSA_logo_b-w
Executive Director
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Confronting Corporate Power with Democracy and Solidarity

Democracy and Solidarity

This is the text of my address to the Public Meeting on the Kernot Dairy, Gippsland, 12.5.15, held at RMIT Building 56, Queensberry St, Melb. 50 people were in attendance. 

We’re here tonight for a political meeting. This is not about party politics; rather, it’s about politics in the deep sense, of who holds power in our society, and how that power is exercised, for whose benefit, and with what consequences.

That’s what we’re here to discuss tonight, in the very specific context of a clear intention by one corporation to transform a Gippsland dairy farm into a highly intensified system of production.

 Our food system is facing a series of crises. One of them is the exploitation of vulnerable workers. Some of you may have seen the Four Corners program, Slaving Away, on Monday 4th May. It exposed the distressing and disturbing reality that significant portions of our cheap food system depend on the ruthless exploitation and abuse of migrant workers, most of whom are in this country on short-term working visas.

It’s all too easy in such circumstances to point the finger of blame at the few ‘rotten apples’, the unscrupulous labour hire contractors, or the few large farms that use their services. But the real beneficiaries are the major supermarkets, and the fast food companies, that buy these products at the lowest possible cost.

As Tammi wrote last week on the AFSA website, what this Four Corners program actually revealed is a system that’s failing, at many levels, to secure the well-being of all. These migrant workers are experiencing truly appalling treatment, without any doubt. But let’s not forget the millions of chickens and pigs in their cages in the dozens of factory farms that already exist in Australia. Let’s not forget the 1 million-plus Australians who experience food insecurity on a regular basis. Let’s not forget the millions more who suffer chronic pain and early death as a result of type 2 diabetes, and other diseases of diets based on cheap and empty calories.

WTF?
WTF?

Let’s not forget the farmers, who on average receive only 10 cents of every dollars’ worth of food they produce; and who feel so devalued by our cheap food culture, that they experience rates of suicide and depression at twice the national average.

This food system is failing the great majority of people, in this country and worldwide, and the non-human species that are caught up in its voracious maw of ceaseless production. But it’s not failing the handful of corporations that make a handsome profit off the misery of the majority.

And that’s the problem we face. We’ve inherited a system that’s primarily designed and operated to feed corporate profit, rather than feed people fairly. It’s all about production, for production’s sake, regardless of the consequences. That’s what the Kernot dairy issue represents, as we’ll hear shortly. It’s a choice for all of us as to what food system we want for our country: one that primarily serves large corporations and banks; or one that serves people and ecosystems.

What factory farming of dairy cattle looks like...
What factory farming of dairy cattle looks like…

* * * * *

We’re also hear tonight to reclaim our democratic culture, which lately has been under increasing strain. We have a journalist summarily sacked for committing the cardinal sin of criticizing the sanctification of Anzac Day. We have campaigning environmental organisations like Friends of the Earth under financial attack because they dare to mobilise communities to question the rush to frack our fertile farmlands. We have moves to criminalise animal welfare groups who dare to expose the cruelty meted out in factory farms.

TPP

At such times, it’s important that as many of us as possible stand up and speak the truth as we know it. Food sovereignty, we say, is the fundamental right of communities to democratically determine our food and farming systems. To participate in the making of decisions about who owns our farmland, and what sort of production systems should be employed. What should be grown or raised, and where and under what terms should the produce be sold? For the past few decades we have delegated all these decisions to a mythical and apparently all-powerful entity known as ‘the market’. But the market, far from being ‘free’ and a ‘level playing field’, is actually structured in favour of the largest and most powerful corporations.

How do we begin to change this? By gathering together in forums such as this, to hear directly from the producers and communities who are at the sharp end of these processes of ‘free trade’ and ‘globalisation’. By listening, and becoming informed of the issues, and what’s at stake.

And by taking action. Because that’s what this meeting is also about. Solidarity. Standing together with those who are trying to sound the alarm on what looks like a headlong rush to the intensification of dairy farming in Gippsland and elsewhere in Victoria. We have several people who’ve made the journey up the freeway to be with us tonight and share their stories with us. I’d like to invite them all to stand up now – and invite you all to give them a very warm round of applause. You are very welcome here; and we have come here tonight to support you.

But it’s also very important to remember that although the corporation that is planning the intensification of this dairy in Kernot is Chinese, we have no quarrel with the people of China. Food sovereignty is a global movement that embraces hundreds of millions of people in more than 80 countries, and it is firmly grounded in the principles of international solidarity and non-discrimination. What we oppose is a food system that privileges short-term financial gain for a tiny minority, over the long-term well-being of the vast majority of humanity, non-human species, and ecosystems everywhere. Ultimately we have one home, and it’s called Earth. And our responsibility is to adopt an ethic and a practice of care, and love, towards each other. Not only those closest to us, but those far away as well.

The real costs of cheap food

The real costs of ‘cheap’ food

Nick Rose

This article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate, 19.2.11

There’s been plenty of talk over the past month or so about the impact that the extreme weather events north of the border will have on food and grocery prices, vegetables and bananas especially.

There’s lots of things to say about this, beginning with the fact that if the mid-north coast still had a viable banana industry, and if production wasn’t so centralised and concentrated in cyclone-prone areas of north Queensland, then consumers might not be so vulnerable to the sorts of price spikes we’re likely to see in the coming months.

Be that as it may, there’s a bigger question at stake which is rarely addressed, and that’s whether the ‘normal’ price we pay for our groceries is sufficient to maintain a healthy, diverse and viable agricultural sector in this country over the medium and long-term, given the way that current market mechanisms operate.

It’s hardly any secret that many farmers are doing it tough, and have done so for a long time. So it should come as no surprise that Australia has lost around 50,000 farmers since the mid-1960s, and the exodus continues, with five farmers leaving the land every day.

WTF?
WTF?

Nor should it be any surprise that the average age of the Australian farmer is approaching 60. There simply aren’t the incentives for young people to want to embrace agriculture as a career and lifestyle choice. Which begs the question: who’s going to do the work of feeding us in 15 or 20 years’ time, when most farmers will be approaching 80, and there’ll be 35,000 fewer of them?

Does this sound like a crisis-in-the-making to you? It certainly does to me. In fact, it’s a crisis that’s been with us for many years now.

Which brings us back to the central issue: the proper cost of food. Through the centuries, farmers have always sought a fair price – a just price – for their produce. The trouble in recent decades is that they simply have not been getting it. At the heart of the global crisis in agriculture – Australia is but one of dozens of countries affected – is that farm-gate prices have failed to keep pace with the rising costs of inputs, freight and labour. In many cases farm-gate prices have barely risen at all.

Alongside this cost-price squeeze, we have seen an equally strong trend towards the concentration of ownership and control of most aspects of the food-value chain: from seed, to agro-chemicals, to grain trading and meat-packing, to food processing and manufacturing, and to retailing. We have witnessed the corporatisation and monopolisation of food and agriculture.

Many would say that the two trends  – the farm crisis, and the growth of agri-food monopolies – are closely linked. So closely, that the latter brings about the former.

There’s no simple answer to this, and I’m certainly not advocating a big price hike in groceries for consumers, least of all the many millions of middle and low-income Australians who are experiencing cost-of-living pressures already, with electricity and petrol price rises, not to mention the constantly rising cost of housing. But the question remains: how do we make farming viable – especially for smaller scale, bio-diverse farms – and yet keep food affordable?

We do need to move away from the culture of cheap food, where price is the sole criterion for making purchasing decisions. The logic of the food system as it stands points in one direction: the factory farm. And if you want to know why that’s a future we ought to say no to, come and watch Food Inc: see the interviews with factory farmers and workers in the United States; the conditions in which the animals are kept; the phenomenal waste that is generated, and the severe consequences for human and environmental health. The good news is that there are alternatives, and they’re being implemented all over the world, including on the Coffs Coast.

The Food System Isn’t Just Broken. It’s killing us.

This is the text of the speech delivered by AFSA National Coordinator Dr Nick Rose to the sell-out audience of 200 people, at the premiere of the Fair Food documentary at the National Gallery of Victoria on Tuesday 2nd December, 2014. 

 

AFSA National Coordinator, Dr Nick Rose

Why did we make this film? Because the Food System is broken.

Why is it broken?

Because we have fully applied the technologies and the mindset of industrialisation to food and farming. And because we have combined industrialisation with the logic and the imperative of endlessly increasing production, regardless of the consequences.

What does that mean? It means we have over-exploited our land, degraded our soils, and damaged our river systems. It means we have one of the highest rates of deforestation, biodiversity loss and species extinction on the planet. It means, globally, that the food system contributes as much as 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

It means that we have a supermarket duopoly which controls 70-80 percent of the grocery market, forcing farmers and food processors into price-taker relationships. 100 years ago farmers received 90 cents of every dollar’s worth of food they produced; today it’s around 10 cents.

 

Farming has become de-valued in our highly urbanized culture; and not just economically. So it’s shocking, but not surprising, that 7 farmers leave the land every day, and that rates of suicide and depression amongst farmers are twice the national average.

Our industrialised food system produces too much food of the wrong type. So we’re subjected to an endless barrage of advertising, urging us to buy food products laced with excess sugars and salt. Dietary-related diseases are already amongst the biggest public health issues we face.

 Our food system is not merely broken. It’s killing us, and ruining any chance that future generations have for a decent and liveable future. Yet the industrialised food system persists, and is expanding. Why? Because there are very powerful economic and financial interests that make a lot of money from the status quo. Because we are so disconnected from our food system. Because food is apparently abundant and cheap, and because we don’t join these dots.

We made this film, and we formed the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, because we can no longer tolerate this state of affairs. Because it’s no longer enough just to talk or think in terms of reforms. We need a transformation; we need a revolution.

And that revolution begins in our own minds, in our hearts, in our consciousness. We need to see ourselves as part of the story of the Great Work, the work that matters. As philosopher Thomas Berry puts it:

The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.

This is the challenge to every one of you here in this room. This is the choice facing every one of us alive today. Do we continue to allow our culture and our society to become ever-more destructive, and ever-more violent? Do we choose to remain in a paradigm which says that the Earth, and indeed ourselves, only exist for endless exploitation so that a tiny fraction of humanity can enjoy obscene levels of wealth?

Or do we choose to be part of the great challenge of our times – the greatest challenge of all times? To create a shared vision of a wonderful, bountiful world, where there is no hunger and no poverty; where soils are thriving, rivers are healthy and forests are abundant; where animals roam freely; and where all of us are healthy and flourishing.

Do we choose to see ourselves as victims of processes and powers beyond our control, and simply walk away and do nothing, resigned to our fate? Or do we choose to see ourselves as subjects and shapers of our own history, as creators and narrators of our own story, as powerful beings with the capacity to effect great changes?

Because I’m here to tell you, that’s who we are. We are powerful.

We made this film because these are messages that need to be heard. This is the story that needs to be told; that we need to tell ourselves, and each other. We made this film because we know that there are women and men all over this state, and all around this country, who have embraced this new paradigm, who are blazing a trail towards the decent, fair and liveable future that all of us want.

We’re here tonight to recognize and celebrate them.

They are our Fair Food Pioneers.

And this is the story of Fair Food.

Agricultural Democracy

A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on 15th November, 2014

 

Food and farming forums are the flavour of the month. On November 3rd, we had the well attended and highly successful Mid-North Coast Food Forum. Key themes emerging were the need for prominent and coordinated marketing and branding strategies to raise the profile of the region’s producers and food enterprises, the importance of finding ways to enable young people to enter farming, and the need for better coordination and collaboration across the sector.

Next week, from 16th to 18th November, the focus will shift to the Northern Rivers and Byron Bay, with the 4th Regional Food Cultures and Networks Conference. The focus is again very much on local and regional food: the Conference will “showcase innovative thinking and demonstrate approaches to the development and sustainability of local food; and examine the cultural, economic, social and environmental implications and opportunities around local and regional food.”

And two weeks after that a Fair Food and Law conference will take place at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, with the involvement of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, the Australian Earth Laws Association, and Monash University. That conference will explore the role of law and regulation in supporting – or not supporting – the creation and expansion of a fair food system.

All of this activity I find very positive and encouraging. It is only through bringing diverse individuals and stakeholders into the same room that we can begin to transcend institutional barriers and ways of thinking and acting. These spaces allow us to identify and explore what we have in common and begin to develop creative approaches to addressing common challenges.

I keep coming back to the need to support and keep our farmers on the land, help them develop as diverse, financially viable and ecologically sustainable systems as possible. And critically, to build pathways for young people to enter agriculture.

This was highlighted a few weeks ago, on October 16th , World Food Day, by the new UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Professor Hilal Elver. She pointed out that 70% of the world’s food depends on family farmers, most operating farms of less than 2 hectares. That’s right: small-scale family farmers, who, we’re often told, are ‘inefficient’ and ‘not productive’, feed the world, not giant agri-business.

Not that they get a lot of thanks for it. On the contrary, these farmers are at the sharp end of a struggle for their land, which large agri-business corporations and financial institutions, ever hungry for ever more profit, want in increasing quantities.

This ‘global land grab’ is a zero sum game. 2014 is the International Year of Family Farming. Industrialised large-scale monocultures are resource-intensive, wasteful, polluting and environmentally destructive. They also generate and intensify inequality, as I saw in Argentina, where the rapid expansion of the multi-million hectare ‘green deserts’ of GMO soy monocultures have forced hundreds of thousands of country folk into precarious villas de miseria (villages of misery) on the outskirts of the major cities.

Casas precarias in the so-called Villas de Miserias, this photo taken in Barrio Nestor Kirchner, part of the Cinturon de Pobreza that encircles a significant portion of Tucuman, in the north-east of Argentina. Similar 'poverty belts' and 'misery towns' can be found in many mid-to-large sized Argentina towns and cities.
Casas precarias in the so-called Villas de Miserias, this photo taken in Barrio Nestor Kirchner, part of the Cinturon de Pobreza that encircles a significant portion of Tucuman, in the north-east of Argentina. Similar ‘poverty belts’ and ‘misery towns’ can be found in many mid-to-large sized Argentina towns and cities.

This mode of production and social organization, the mindset that the earth is only here for us to endlessly exploit regardless of the consequences, so that a few ‘rich’ people can become ‘richer’, for a while – this is what has to change. And it is changing, and the producers and entrepreneurs and government representatives attending all the local and regional food conferences are the ones changing it.

This is part of what my colleague, regenerative sheep farmer and agrarian intellectual, Dr Charlie Massy, calls the Underground Insurgency: a ‘cascading series of personal transformations from soil up, culminating in the Great Turning’. I’ll say more about that in a future column.

 

 

There is a hunger and thirst for connection

"Art in the Park" Growing Power Urban Farm, Grant Park, Downtown Chicago
“Art in the Park” Growing Power Urban Farm, Grant Park, Downtown Chicago
Growing Community principles, Victory Gardens Initiative, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Growing Community principles, Victory Gardens Initiative, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

These famous opening words from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities sums up how I am feeling after a week and a half in the Midwest of the United States: a week in Chicago and three days in Milwaukee.

Creativity Board, Sweetwater Foundation Aquaponics Demonstration Site, Southside Chicago
Creativity Board, Sweetwater Foundation Aquaponics Demonstration Site, Southside Chicago

I feel excited by the scale and diversity of urban agriculture activity that I have witnessed. I feel inspired by the passion and vision and energy of the many wonderful people I have met. Every day brings someone new and lovely into my life. I feel uplifted by the warmth and generosity that I have been shown as a traveller and outsider. Everyone I have met has been so keen to show and tell me what they are doing, the projects they are involved in, the change they are part of.

With Sonya Harper, Communications Officer of the Growing Home Wood St Urban Farm
With Sonya Harper, Communications Officer of the Growing Home Wood St Urban Farm

At the same time, I feel deeply saddened by the divisions and suffering that scar the two cities I have spent time in. It is one thing to acknowledge the reality of racial division and segregation in the abstract; it is another entirely to see how it manifests socially and geographically. During my first week here, I spent a fair amount of time in Englewood, a sprawling suburb on the south side of Chicago. I travelled there by public transport, and it was a sobering experience, as the bus went further south, to be in a minority of one amongst all the other passengers.

Abandoned house marked for demolition, Englewood, Southside Chicago
Abandoned house marked for demolition, Englewood, Southside Chicago

“Urban blight” are just two words that convey an uncomfortable sensation, until you see what they really mean in the Englewood context. Block after block with many abandoned, boarded-up houses. Block after block with many houses stamped with an ominous red X, which means they are slated for demolition. Block after block with growing acres of vacant lots, places where houses once stood.

Vacant lots and empty buildings, Englewood, Southside Chicago
Vacant lots and empty buildings, Englewood, Southside Chicago

The same is true in the inner northern suburbs of Milwaukee, a city of 650,000 which is an hour and a half north of Chicago. The City of Milwaukee now has 2,500 vacant lots on its books, and 1,500 foreclosed homes. 550 are marked for demolition this calendar year, and thousands more homes, most on the inner north side, are two years or more in arrears on their property taxes. Three years in arrears triggers the foreclosure process.

Productive urban lots, Growing Home, Englewood, Southside Chicago
Productive urban lots, Growing Home, Englewood, Southside Chicago

Just as the built environment is in advanced decay, the social indicators are equally troubling. Unemployment amongst African American men exceeds 50%. Violent crime is rife: an hour after visiting one beautiful urban farm in north-side Milwaukee with a group of primary school children, the corner store a block away was held up at gun point and someone was shot. Obesity and dietary-related ill-health are endemic.

Concordia Community Garden, Harambee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Concordia Community Garden, Harambee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

But for all this desolation – which is writ large in Detroit, where I will be next week – there is so much hope and positivity. Such as the urban farms in Chicago which are growing hundreds of kilos of produce every month to donate directly to food pantries.

Transforming abandoned carparks into productive urban farmland, Urban Canopy Farms, Southside, Chicago
Transforming abandoned carparks into productive urban farmland, Urban Canopy Farms, Southside, Chicago

Like the Victory Gardens Initiative, which brought together over 500 volunteers for a fortnight in May, to create 550 edible backyard gardens in Milwaukee – on top of the 514 created in May 2013, and the 700 created in the three preceding years.

Victory Gardens Initiative Executive Director Gretchen Mead, with co-workers Colin and Ellie, Milwaukee
Victory Gardens Initiative Executive Director Gretchen Mead, with co-workers Colin and Ellie, Milwaukee

Like the City of Chicago Food Plan, and the Home Grown Initiative of the City of Milwaukee, both of which anticipate the expansion of urban agriculture both large and small across both metropolitan areas in the coming years.

Support local food, City of Chicago
Support local food, City of Chicago

The local governments and their communities are investing heavily in urban agriculture as a strategy for urban renewal and revitalisation. On one level it’s about growing food, but more fundamentally, it’s about re-creating the connections that sustain healthy communities and healthy people.

COMMUNITY FUNDED FOOD

A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday 31st May, 2014

About nine months ago I first wrote a column about the emergence of crowd-funding as an alternative means by which direct-marketing farmers could raise finance to invest in capital enhancements and equipment purchases. Those investments in turn would enable on-farm value-adding and diversification that could make the critical difference between going under and going from strength-to-strength.

Judging by the numbers of farm-based crowd-funding campaigns in the past few weeks and months, there is a growing community appetite around the country to get behind local producers. On platforms such as Pozible, fundraising is structured around a rewards system, so for every pledge, you receive a specified ‘reward’ of goods produced on the farm. The higher your pledge, the greater your reward.

Producers like it because, if well structured and well promoted, these campaigns help raise their profile as an innovative supplier of good food to local communities. And of course because, unlike a loan or mortgage from a bank, there is no obligation to pay any interest. Repayment is in farm produce.

As my friend and fellow Committee member of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, Tammi Jonas, puts it:

“Your support helps us reach our goals to be ethically viable without taking on debt from the banks to line shareholders’ pockets. Instead of feeding the banks, let us feed you with our range of tasty rewards in return for your pledge to help us reach our goal!”

Tammi Pigs

 

Tammi and her husband Stuart (Jonai Farms, rare breed pigs) have just launched a campaign to raise $30,000 to build on an on-farm curing room and commercial kitchen, following the success of their campaign last year to build an on-farm butchery. Another free range pig farmer, Lauren Mathers, has just successfully raised $15,000 to build an on-farm charcuterie to make pork small goods.

And a truly enterprising young poultry farmer, Madelaine, raised a record-breaking $67,986 to purchase an egg cleaning and grading machine so she could increase her sales of organic and free range eggs direct to customers in Melbourne.

Crowd-funding in NSW 

In northern NSW, I’m happy to report that there is an exciting new food social enterprise initiative just starting in Mullumbimby. Future Feeders is a project launched by a small group of local young people, aiming to create pathways for young people to enter agriculture and be supported in developing their skills and capacities to have viable and long-term careers in sustainable food production.

As I’ve written in this column several times previously, Australia is facing an agrarian demographic crisis. According to ABS data, the percentage of Australian farmers under 35 had fallen to 13% by 2011, from 28% thirty years previously. A quarter of all our farmers are over 65. We are quite literally relying on a workforce of pensioners to do a lot of the heavy 2014-01-12 16.59.45lifting in feeding us. This is both grossly unfair and dangerously non-resilient.

 

That is why it is so encouraging when groups of young people are motivated, enthusiastic and committed to enter agriculture. Future Feeders have a 2 acre urban farm operational in Mullumbimby, on which they have secured a five-year community land lease. They are looking to partner with retiring farmers on a land-share basis, to turn disused or under-utilised parcels of land into thriving centres of sustainable and diverse production for local and regional markets.

 

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They are seeking support to raise start-up capital to purchase necessary irrigation, transport, fencing and storage equipment so they can hit the ground running. And they want to share their knowledge, expertise and resources widely through a co-operative farm management and community-supported agriculture model.

Simon Richardson, Mayor of Byron Shire Council, has this to say about Future Feeders:

“This group walks their talk: they get their hands into the soil and do so cooperatively, intelligently ad passionately. They are the future of the next generation of farmers.”

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For more information, contact Joel Orchard, Project Manager, joel@futurefeeders.org

To support their crowd-funding campaign, visit www.chuffed.org/project/future-feeders

Globalise the struggle, globalise hope! Viva La Via Campesina!

While peasants maintain their struggle, corporations’ mouths water over the ‘dining boom’

A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday, 20th April 2013

Nick Rose

Two events this week mark sharply diverging paths for national and global food systems.

Wednesday (17 April) marked the 17th anniversary of the murder of 19 peasant family farmers in the Brazilian town of Dorado dos Carajas. Members of the million-strong Landless Workers Movement (MST), they were targeted as part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment by big landowners and agribusiness interests, for whom the MST’s demands for more equitable access to land and other resources could not be tolerated.

The global small farmers movement La Via Campesina now commemorates 17 April as the ‘International Day of Peasants’ Struggle’. Each year hundreds of peasant farmers in many different countries lose their lives attempting to resist what appears to be a relentless push for greater corporate ownership and control over land, seeds, water and markets. Thousands more lose their livelihoods and their land as they are forced off their own ancestral lands, often violently, to make way for biofuel plantations and the GM soy mega monocultures that provide feed for the factory farming of pigs and chickens.

All of this is supposedly done in the name of ‘development’, ‘progress’ and ‘efficiency’.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne on Thursday (18 April), the Australian and the Wall Street Journal launched the inaugural Global Food Forum. As reported in the Australian, ‘billionaire packaging and recycling magnate Anthony Pratt’ called for a ‘coalition of the willing’ so that Australia can ‘quadruple our exports to feed 200 million people’.

 

The ‘dining boom’ will replace the mining boom as the next driver of our economy, apparently. Eyes lit up with estimates of an ‘additional $1.7 trillion in agriculture revenues between now and 2050 if [Australia] seized the opportunity of the Asia food boom.’

 

Amongst other measures, this ‘dining boom’ is said to depend on the so-called Northern food bowl: clearing large swathes of Northern Australia and irrigating it with dozens of new dams.

 

But, as Professor Andrew Campbell of Charles Darwin University has pointed out, water is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for successful food production. Good soils are essential, and in our north the ‘soils are low in nutrients and organic matter, they can’t hold much water, they erode easily and they have low infiltration rates’. Other obstacles to the rosy future of being ‘Asia’s food bowl’ include extreme monsoonal weather events, high input costs and higher labour costs due to remote locations.

In short, the so-called Northern food bowl is likely to prove a mirage. And when you add to the picture the parlous state of many wheat farmers in south-west WA, not to mention the Murray-Darling itself, the idea that massively expanding food exports to Asia is going to be this country’s economic saviour looks decidedly like wishful thinking.

And even if it were true, who would be the main beneficiaries? A handful of very large exporting farms, and the grain traders and agri-business that dominate the global food system.

Which brings us back to Via Campesina. They’re campaigning for a food system that’s fair and sustainable, one that works for people and the land, not simply for shareholders and CEOs.

Sam Palmer, from Symara Organic Farms (near Stanthorpe, Qld), who attended the 6th Global Via Campesina conference in Jakarta, June 2013
Sam Palmer, from Symara Organic Farms (near Stanthorpe, Qld), who attended the 6th Global Via Campesina conference in Jakarta, June 2013

In June this year, Via Campesina will be holding its sixth international conference, in Jakarta. For the first time, a delegation of four Australian farmers are hoping to join the other delegates from dozens of countries around the world, to discuss the future of family farming and food systems worldwide. They’re asking for support from the Australian public to get there, to make sure the vo

ices of Australian family farmers are heard in these important discussions.

You can find out who they are, and help them get to Jakarta, by going to http://www.pozible.com/project/20941.

Local food production means resilience

Expanding trust horizons in Karangi

A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday 6th April, 2013

In February last year , Canada-based blogger Nicole Foss (www.automaticearth.com) spoke at the Cavanbagh Centre in Coffs Harbour, as part of her speaking tour of Australia and New Zealand. Nicole is now back in Australia for another speaking tour, though she won’t be visiting Coffs on this occasion.

In Coffs as elsewhere, Nicole offered her perspective on what she terms the unfolding ‘deflationary depression’, caused by the build-up of unsustainable debt levels throughout the global economy, combined with the anticipated impacts of dwindling supplies of cheap energy. Events in many countries in southern Europe would seem to offer early confirmation of her analysis.

Nicole Foss, aka Stoneleigh
Nicole Foss, aka Stoneleigh

Nicole also talked about the shrinking  ‘trust horizon’ that she believes will accompany a prolonged economic contraction. She argues that ‘relationships of trust are the glue that holds societies together’; and while in good times trust expands and the sense of ‘us vs them’ recedes, the opposite is true when hard times fall.

Putting this in a wider historical context, Dr Ben Habib of La Trobe University notes how the Chinese people coped with around 140 years of upheaval, revolution and war from the 1830s to the 1970s by ‘drawing on a cultural practice called guanxi (pronounced “gwan-shee”) which is about maintaining networks of ongoing personal relationships based on mutual benefit through reciprocal ties and obligations.” It was guanxi, according to Dr Habib, that enabled ‘greater social stability at the local level in China than would otherwise have existed during this turbulent period.’

Enter Sam Mihelffy, who migrated to the Coffs Coast with her husband Aaron and young family from Noosa five years ago. They bought a 34-acre property in Karangi, with established stands of citrus, pecans, macadamia, avocado and custard apples. They added some blueberries, apple trees, a vegie garden and most recently dragon fruit; and for the first time in their lives became farmers.

At the start, they weren’t ready for taking on this sort of life project. “It was mind-blowing”, says Sam. “We definitely moved in there with our hearts and not our heads, we didn’t really take on the concept of growing on such a large scale. It’s been a massive learning curve, and we’ve only really scratched the surface. But it’s something you evolve with, it’s really exciting.”

They diversified the farm by fencing it into three paddocks and adding a flock of 30 sheep, three alpacas, six ducks, a shetland pony and a pet pig. So was born the concept of ‘Me-Healthy Farm’ (a play on their name, Mihelffy), a ‘whole farm’ experience. Sam and Aaron opened the farm on Sundays for friends and the public to visit, buy fresh local produce at the farm shop (both from their own farm and nearby properties), and relax with a cup of coffee and some homemade cake, while kids could run around and feed the animals.

Sam Mihelffy at her Coffs Coast Growers Market stall
Sam Mihelffy at her Coffs Coast Growers Market stall

Providing that direct connection with farm animals was a big part of Sam’s motivation. “A lot of kids, even in Coffs Harbour, don’t have that experience, not even with the sheep”, says Sam. “A baby lamb being fed, they have no concept of that, so it’s really that we could show kids, hey look, this is what it’s like to live on a farm, come and have that experience for the day.”

And the concept proved very popular. “The fact that the kids could roam free was a great pull for parents”, Sam says.  “They got excited about the fact that they could chill out, the kids could feed the animals – there were so many different aspects. And get some fresh produce. It was a real experience – and we don’t have that happening any more [in modern society].”

Sadly though Sam and Aaron have had to pause it for the time being, because the amount of work involved in having their farm open every Sunday with a farm shop, was proving to be too much with a young family. But it’s time could come again – and given the need to strengthen our trust horizons – it might be sooner than later.

In Sam’s words, “This is where we should all be going. It’s really what we want to do. It wasn’t just about us – it was about our local community, [about] all the local products of the area. This is what we need to do, get back into that trading idea, someone specialises in garlic, someone specialises in ginger, someone’s doing beef, someone’s doing honey. If anything ever happens, we need to create that community where we can support each other.”